Dana and Mary Poppins
'Though her words are simple and few,
Listen, listen she's calling to you'
Recognise the lyrics from the song 'Feed the Birds' in the motion picture 'Mary Poppins'?
In the USA, 3rd February has become 'Feed the Birds Day' and is celebrated every year. It is the deepest, coldest, and snowiest part of winter when food is scarcest, with much of it hidden under the snow. Indeed the whole of February is a time when the backyard birds need help the most. The seeds in feeders that people put out provide energy and strength, helping birds make it through the rest of winter.
In addition to feeding birds, today is also a day to educate the public about wild birds and their needs. Importantly, schools and businesses are encouraged to hold classes and seminars about birds and especially about winter survival.
Reading about this important date in the US calendar got me thinking about why we feed the birds. I called an environmentalist friend Emma, who is Kent's 'Plan Bee' officer in the UK. She knows her stuff (bee blog to follow).So Emma, why feed the birds?
"Careful feeding of garden birds can benefit a range of delightful species, including some of our best songsters such as blackbirds, robins, wrens and thrushes. Colourful and charming birds such as goldfinch, blue tits and long-tailed tits can also arrive in good numbers. And the benefit to people? The joy and pleasure watching these wonderful birds on your doorstep. Nature, up close and personal, helps us reconnect to the natural world, which has been shown to have a great impact on our mental and physical health"
Coming back to the song in Mary Poppins, I discovered that this was Walt Disney's favourite song. The reason it became his favourite song and a reoccurring musical theme throughout Mary Poppins (playing four times over the course of the film) is because the song works on every level. He felt it represented everything the company idealised itself as: altruistic, pure, and with deeper conviction. The song within the plot just as the children see their father in the bank, just as they see the old bird lady, just as their father begins to see the error in his ways—binds the film together and binds Mary Poppins’ purpose: to demonstrate the merits of giving. “Feed the Birds” at first glance doesn’t embody a deeper meaning but the moral derives from the image of a destitute elderly woman at the steps of a church, asking for money to feed her birds. This simple image combined with the lyrics in the song makes for a clear metaphor, whether the birds refer to the children or indeed the marginalised.
I have often wondered why this altruistic act of feeding the birds is deeply fulfilling. Perhaps it is that we can so easily and generously give in our back garden and almost instantly witness the benefits. I called on my close friend, Jane, for her thoughts....
"It all began with the bird table that my son made for my mum many years ago. When she died, our garden seems the obvious place for its new home. Discovering birds has added a whole new dimension to my life. And I’m grateful for this as the time I spend at home has and is steadily increasing due to the fact that my caring responsibilities for my husband have also increased.
The joy is multi layered, I think. Buddhism teaches the concept of Dana which includes selfless giving without anticipation of return or benefit to the giver. I am not so altruistic as to say that I receive no benefit from watching the birds gather around my many feeders, but I do feel a deep sense of the wonder of providing resources for these beautiful creatures, particularly when you know they need our help so much (I have heard that only 10% of birds born make it into adulthood).
Watching them fly all around the garden, perching on nearby twigs and of course singing is truly delightful. It brings a sense of continuity, a feeling of life goes on no matter what. This is on a personal level, linking my parents’ interest to my own as well as on a larger scale. Life goes on, no matter what. And the feeders must be topped up no matter how I’m feeling. These tiny creatures need me to."
Whether we are learning Dana or listening to Mary Poppins, it is all about the Amazing Act of Generosity. And of course, the bird feeding metaphor extends far beyond our backgardens or backyards, perhaps with a just a little sprinkling of Mary's magic. Let's not forget...
"Everything Is Possible, Even The Impossible."